Fun under the Freeway:Park to Seize Upon Trend of Recreation in Lost Spaces

By Seth Daniel

For the longest time, no one wanted to be under the highway.

Huge concrete columns, the buzz of fast-moving automobiles overhead and shady areas (figuratively and literally) didn’t lend to anyone’s idea of space that could be used for anything.

Now, that’s all different as cities nationwide look to grab space under bridges and freeways and turn it into something useful.

Boston is no exception and the South End looks to be a pioneer in the effort, as the Infra-Space 1 project begins to kick off construction next to the Ink Block on the northeastern edge of the South End. It’s a space that will serve as a much-needed parking lot and a much-needed recreation space.

Last year, the City and the State announced the plans for Infra-Space 1, and in April, the State signed an agreement with National Development – developers of Ink Block – to run programming and to lease the site for up to 35 years.

The plans include everything from a 175-space secure parking lot to a basketball court, a dog park and even performance space.

“We’re excited about it,” said Ted Tye of National Development. “It’s all coming together now. It really gives us a second front door that we’re really excited about. We’ve in the process of  putting the new hotel on Albany Street and this will sit right at the front of that. We want it to be a place where people are comfortable walking and cycling and relaxing. There will be programs and activities there. We think it will be a real center of activity.”

Plans include rolling out some of the new park space in October, with the full build out to premiere in the spring of 2017. MassDOT indicated that substantial construction should be done at the conclusion of the fall.

The plans right now reflect a boardwalk, a basketball court, a new dog park and a performance area.

The terms of the lease with National Development include:

  • Term length will be up to 35 years (five years with three options to extend for ten years based on performance).
  • Payment to MassDOT will be $195/parking space/month ($409,500/year) with escalations equal to CPI effective at the time of each extension.
  • Lessee will comply with all terms of the Downtown Parking Freeze Permit and 10 percent of the parking spaces would be available during snow emergencies to residents of the adjacent communities.
  • Lot 5 would remain open at all hours every day with at least one security guard on site at all times, and Lessee will install and monitor security cameras.
  • Lessee will be responsible for trash removal and landscaping for the entire Facility
  • Lessee to produce arts and event programing with a minimum of 24 events each year.

“With Ink Block, we’ve been very pioneering,” said Tye. “We look at this as an additional opportunity to pioneer with a new kind of park in the City of Boston. We’re going to take a very creative approach to how we move ahead…One thing we’re already discussing is moving the South End Open Market there next year.”

The space is very large and is seen by the City as a connection from the South End to South Boston for pedestrians and cyclists. The space is forgotten territory, but connects to the Fort Point Channel in a very direct fashion.

Tye said one very interesting thing is that its much quieter under the highway than one might think – even quieter than established parks like Peters Park in the South End.

“One interesting thing is MassDOT went into the core of the space and did some audio tests,” he said. “They also did tests in Peters Park and found the new park under the highway is quieter than Peters Park.”

MassDOT previously constructed two parking lots with 248 spaces (Lots 2 and Lot 4) as part of larger project, Infra-Space 1, and entered into an agreement with GTI Properties which will pay MassDOT $444,600 this year while providing 24-hour parking and security and 12 community events on those two lots.



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